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The big happy family

© Another Day in the Country

When my mom was a kid, her big happy family consisted of Mom, Dad, and nine siblings — that’s 11 people sitting down at the family table. A lot! Many times there were even more with the hired help, live-in aunts, grandparents and cousins stretching the fare and the length of the table.

My own table only comfortably seats four. We can push it to six, and that pretty much takes up all the room; but 11? I have to put in extra leaves (which I can’t find, for some reason) and borrow chairs from other houses to accommodate 11 or 12.

In Mom’s era, families this size were not uncommon. Now? Lots of families just have one or two children — perhaps four people sitting down to a meal. Or do we even sit down?

When I was a kid, my big happy family consisted of Mom, Dad and me. I was 12 before my sister was born, and she had a new fangled table of her own — a Baby-Tenda, as I recall, where she could squish and mess with her food to her heart’s content. I was a teenager before she joined the family table, with my preacher-Dad in his suit and tie, vulnerable to flying food and spilt milk. As I recall, his normal stance during those years, was “just-about-to-jump” away from the table. Because this dodge-catastrophe atmosphere affected Dad’s temperament, I don’t remember family meals being all that much fun.

I did enjoy Mom’s cooking, though, and there are lots of happy memories around her culinary skills. Friday was my favorite day for cooking smells because Mom made bread, cinnamon rolls, and went all out making yummy food on what she deemed “the preparation day” in anticipation of the Sabbath and it’s very special weekly dinner — often with guests. I liked guests. Guests meant that our happy family was on its best behavior, with good food served on the best dishes, accompanied by the best dessert ever.

Our family of four, was only four very briefly because by the time Jess was four, I was off to a boarding academy for 10 months of the year. And then it was college and boom, I was married before I even turned 20.

We were a family of two for quite a long time, my husband and me. By the time our second child was born, making four at the table, we’d been married for 12 years. We entertained a lot — especially on weekends, continuing that tradition of “having company” for Sabbath dinners. Working on a college campus meant that there always seemed to be extra kids around for meals. Our table seated four, six, eight, “pull up a chair.”

Times change, and at 50 I found myself divorced. By this time we were down to three at the supper table. Now it was two — Jana and myself. Briefly, it was three — when Jess came to stay. Then it was two — when Jana moved into her own apartment. Jess got a job in Sacramento and then it was just me. It was a hard adjustment being just ONE. I’d never done that before.

To this day, I hanker for a large family during holidays. There’s something so magical about family arriving at the door, everyone chattering, laughter bouncing off the walls (along with miscellaneous children). Except for family reunions, which we held in Ramona for years, with 30, 40, loved ones sitting down to eat in the parish hall, our family holiday meals are pretty small — just four of us, usually. Sometimes, two. Not enough!

Is it genetic coding? I find myself getting tears in my eyes over television programs that show 10 or 11 people and three or four generations at the Thanksgiving table. I get misty-eyed as the Bravermans or the Reagans gather together. I yearn for this. I want this kind of togetherness. It must be in my DNA, this feeling that all is not right with the world if there aren’t 10 or 12 people, several generations, at the table — especially when there’s a holiday.

Luckily my cousins invited my sister and I to join them for Thanksgiving dinner in Lawrence where there promises to be at least 10 or 11 Fikes around the table as we give thanks. All will be well on another day in the country!

Last modified Nov. 24, 2011

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